Judge Orders FCC To Hand Over Data On Fake Net Neutrality Comments
from the plot-thickens dept
We’ve long discussed how the Pai FCC’s net neutrality repeal was plagued with millions of fraudulent comments, many of which were submitted by a bot pulling names from a hacked database of some kind. Millions of ordinary folks (myself included) had their identities used to support Pai’s unpopular plan, as did several Senators. The Trump FCC stonewalled both law enforcement and journalist inquiries into who was behind the comments, and why the FCC didn’t lift a finger to either stop them or to help identify those responsible.
Numerous journalists like Jason Prechtel have submitted FOIA requests for more data (server logs, IP addresses, API data, anything) that might indicate who was behind the fraudulent comments, who may have bankrolled them, and what the Pai FCC knew about it. Thanks to that effort, early last year, Gizmodo’s Dell Cameron worked with Prechtel to link some of the fake comments to Trump associates and some DC lobbying shops like CQ Roll Call. Then late last year, Buzzfeed’s Kevin Collier and Jeremy-Singer Vine showed how, unsurprisingly, the broadband industry funded at least some of the fraudulent efforts.
Meanwhile two reporters for the New York Times, Nicholas Confessore and Gabriel Dance, sued the FCC under the Freedom of Information Act after the agency refused to reveal logs that could show the IP addresses used to submit the mass comments. Last week, a Manhattan federal judge hand over copies of the logs to both Confessore and Dance:
“The FCC attempted to quash the paper?s request but failed to persuade District Judge Lorna Schofield, who wrote that, despite the privacy concerns raised by the agency, releasing the logs may help clarify whether fraudulent activity interfered with the comment period, as well as whether the agency?s decision-making process is ?vulnerable to corruption.”
Keep in mind this sort of thing wasn’t a one off; numerous regulatory agencies have been plagued by similar efforts for years. Generating bogus support for shitty government policy is now just an additional service many law, lobbying, and PR firms offer corporations and clients as an added service. But much like astroturfing — which often extends to real world protests — it’s such an obscure concept to most people it never warrants a second thought. But it’s ethically grotesque all the same, especially given it pollutes some of the only opportunities the public has to comment on harmful government policies.
At this point there’s enough evidence to reasonably conclude that the broadband industry and GOP hired a bunch of K Street firms to “stuff the ballot box,” and the FCC — likely knowing the broadband industry’s involvement — took steps to try and help cover it up. This lawsuit is likely to reveal even more data to help bolster that conclusion. The question now is whether the courts (or anybody else) will actually care, and whether anybody’s going to do anything about it.